As a dietitian, I see a lot of crazy nutrition myths out there. So today I’m debunking some of the most common myths about fat out there. Read on to find out if there’s any truth to the myths or if they’re purely misconceptions.
Myths About Fat:
Like protein and carbohydrates, fat is a macronutrient that plays an important role in health and normal bodily functions. Like anything in nutrition and health, there are myths, misconceptions and misinformation that needs clearing up. Let’s get to the myth-busting!
Myth #1: You should choose low-fat or fat-free products whenever you can
I guess some of the myths from the 90’s low-fat craze have stuck around because I still hear this one regularly!
It is important to be mindful of our intake of certain fats like saturated and trans fats. However, a product labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” doesn’t make it better for you.
Fat adds both texture and flavour. In packaged foods, when fat is reduced or eliminated, something else, like sugar or salt, may be added to ensure the food still tastes good. Therefore, just because a product is “fat-free” doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy.
Additionally, because fat takes longer to digest and absorb, eating foods that contain fat help us feel satiated after a meal or snack.
This is why I prefer partly-skimmed milk and 2% yogurt. The fat content make these foods taste better (and taste contributes to satisfaction, too) and they keep me full for longer!
Myth #2: You should limit dietary fat as much as possible
Piggy-backing off of Myth #1, it’s not necessary to limit dietary fat as much as possible. Unless you have a condition that impacts your ability to digest and absorb fat, and you’ve been instructed by your doctor or dietitian to do so, this is not something most of us need to do.
Not only does fat contribute to the flavour of our food and satiety after we eat, it also helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E and K). In order to absorb these vitamins optimally from our food, we need to eat them with a source of fat.
These three reasons (flavour, satiety, and absorption of fat soluble vitamins) are why I’d encourage you to add source of dietary fat to ALL of your meals and snacks. No need to limit them!
Myth #3: Eating fat will increase your risk for heart disease
Not all fat will increase your risk for heart disease. Repeat after me: not all fat is created equal!
This is why it’s important to differentiate between fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered protective or “healthy” fats. Saturated and trans fats are the ones that are recommended we eat less of.
Excess saturated and trans fat in the diet contributes to higher LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. As per the Heart and Stroke Foundation, this imbalance can lead to the development of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.
My advice? Consume mono- and polyunsaturated fats often and saturated and trans fats less often. Unsaturated fat sources include: oils like avocado and olive oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish like salmon, and avocado.
Myth #4: Coconut oil is a source of “healthy fat”
This is a debate in the wellness community these days. While coconut oil is plant-based, it’s actually one of few plant sources of saturated fat.
90% of coconut oil is made up of saturated fats, and these can contribute to heart disease risk. However, it this study found that coconut oil may not raise LDL cholesterol as much as other saturated fats like butter. And, that it may actually increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). So, it’s effect on our cholesterol ratio and overall disease risk may not be as simple as people think.
That said, most of the research on coconut oil consumption and health is sparse and mixed. Additionally, there isn’t enough evidence to support the purported health benefits.
My advice? Eat a balanced diet, and until we understand how coconut oil consumption affects disease risk and health outcomes, enjoy it in moderation. If you want to add more healthy fats to your diet, focus on mono- and polyunsaturated fat sources.
Myth #5: You should eat margarine, not butter
This is another debate I’ve seen often. Which is better…butter or margarine?
Many years ago, it was recommended that margarine take place of butter due to its low saturated fat content. It then came to light than many margarine products contained trans fats, which were even worse for health. These days, there are margarine products on the market that offer unsaturated fats and contain little saturated and no trans fats. This post from Harvard Health sums it up well.
In my opinion, neither butter or margarine should make up a significant portion of your diet. Whether you use a teaspoon of margarine or a teaspoon of butter on your bread isn’t going to make or break your health if you eat a nourishing diet, exercising regularly, aim to take care of yourself. Hope that makes sense!
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